Big Ten

Badgers come back to beat Gophers, keep the Axe and keep Playoff hopes alive

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Badgers come back to beat Gophers, keep the Axe and keep Playoff hopes alive

Wisconsin's ticket to the Big Ten title game wasn't going to be revoked, even with a Saturday loss to Minnesota. But there was a ton more on the line.

Trailing at halftime, the Badgers capitalized on four second-half interceptions to come back and win 31-17, beating the rival Gophers, hanging onto Paul Bunyan's Axe and keeping their College Football Playoff hopes alive.

Wisconsin will compete against Penn State for a conference championship next Saturday night in Indianapolis.

Things didn't start so sweetly for the Badgers, who entered on a 12-game winning streak in this century-old rivalry. The Gophers kicked a field goal on their opening drive before the teams traded second-quarter touchdowns, Wisconsin scoring on an Alec Ingold one-yard run and Minnesota answering on a 13-yard pass from Mitch Leidner to Drew Wolitarsky, a scoring play set up by a massive kickoff return.

The Gophers broadened their lead right before halftime, Leidner capping a 68-yard drive with a short touchdown run that sent Minnesota to the locker room with a 17-7 advantage.

Wisconsin chipped away with a field goal on the opening drive of the third quarter. Then the Badger defense, elite all season long, stepped up in a big way, collecting four interceptions from Leidner during the second half. The first didn't lead to anything — though it did come in the end zone, Leo Musso halting a potential scoring drive for the Gophers — but the Badgers scored off Leidner's second, to Sojourn Shelton, Corey Clement rushing in from three yards out to tie the game at 17.

Clement fumbled five plays later, putting Minnesota on the positive end of a turnover. But the Gophers merely punted away, and the Badgers marched 87 yards in three plays, Jazz Peavy rushing 71 yards on a jet sweep to put Wisconsin at the five-yard line and Clement hitting paydirt for a go-ahead touchdown, making it 24-17.

Three plays later came Leidner's third pick, this one to Leon Jacobs, and one play after that came an eight-yard touchdown run by Dare Ogunbowale, putting Wisconsin ahead by two scores. Leidner's fourth pick was also to Shelton, effectively ending the game.

The Badgers out-gained the Gophers, 362-286, but it was the four second-half turnovers that loomed largest in this one.

Clement went for 100 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries, Peavy adding 83 yards on the ground, the majority coming on the one big play. Bart Houston threw for 123 yards, doing the entirety of the quarterbacking after Alex Hornibrook was knocked out with an injury.

Leidner passed for 158 yards and a touchdown, rushing for an additional 46 yards and a touchdown. But he threw those four interceptions as the Gopher offense was generally unable to do much against the Badger defense.

Wisconsin improved to 10-2 overall and 7-2 in conference play, officially winning the Big Ten West Division title a night after earning a spot in the Big Ten title game with Nebraska's Friday loss. The Badgers will go up against fellow two-loss, top-10 team Penn State in the conference championship game, and a berth in the Playoff could be on the line. Ohio State figures to be one Big Ten representative in the sport's final four, though the winner of the league title bout could easily be a second, should the selection committee favor the conference as it has throughout the past several weeks. This will be Wisconsin's fourth appearance in the Big Ten Championship Game.

Minnesota finished the season at 8-4 overall and 5-4 in the conference. The Gophers will await their bowl destination after winning eight games in a season for the third time in the past four seasons.

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

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Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

Tough news out of Evanston this morning: Northwestern announced that running back Jeremy Larkin will retire immediately after being diagnosed with cervical stenosis.

Cervical stenois is the narrowing of the spinal canal in one's neck, according to Mayo Clinic. Larkin's condition is thankfully not life-threatening, though it does prevent him from continuing to participate in the game of football. 

"Football has been a lifelong passion and it has been a process to reconcile the fact I won't be on that field again, given I've played this game since I was five years old," Larkin said.

"I'm extremely appreciative of the Northwestern sports medicine and athletic training staffs for uncovering this condition, and for my coaches and the medical staff for always putting my health first.

"I came to this University to engage at the absolute highest level on the field and in the classroom, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to continue one of those while supporting my teammates from the sideline." 

Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald called the news "heartbreaking."

"This is heartbreaking because I see every day how much Jeremy loves the game, loves his teammates, and loves to compete," Fitzgerald said in a statement. "But this is the absolute best possible outcome for him.

"The discovery of this condition allowed Jeremy and his family to make an informed decision for his long-term health and well-being. For those of us who have known Jeremy Larkin since his high school days, his future is exceptionally bright. I can't wait to see the impact he makes in our world."

Larkin is a sophomore from Cincinnati. He finishes his Northwestern career with 156 carries for 849 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns.

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

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Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

Former University of Illinois tennis star Kevin Anderson completed a marathon upset against an all-time great on the highest stage of professional tennis.

Anderson came back from two sets down to beat Roger Federer in Wimbledon’s quarterfinals 2-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 13-11 on Wednesday morning. He will play in the semifinals of the tournament for the first time in his career.

As a native of South Africa, Anderson played three seasons with the Fighting Illini and won the NCAA doubles championship during the 2005-06 season as a sophomore. The 32-year-old was a three-time All-American in singles at Illinois.

Now, as the eighth ranked singles player on the ATP World Tour, Anderson is a force to be reckoned with at the professional level. He made it all the way to the US Open final in 2017.

The former Illini star will look to keep his recent success going when he represents Illinois in the semifinals of Wimbledon this Friday.